Published: Tue, March 20, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

OSCE says Russian presidential election lacked real choice

OSCE says Russian presidential election lacked real choice

In a late night victory speech near Red Square, Putin told a cheering crowd he interpreted the win as a vote of confidence in what he had achieved in the last few years in tough conditions.

Putin has sought to use the election run-up to emphasize Russia's role as a major world power, recently boasting of its "invincible" new weapons and continuing Moscow's support for the Syrian regime in a bloody civil war.

The independent Golos election-monitoring group broadcast a video from the city of Krasnodar that it said showed people being forced to vote by their employers.

Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, alleged Kremlin meddling in the USA presidential election and Moscow's bombing campaign in Syria have been condemned in the West.

Putin's main challenge in the vote was to obtain a huge margin of victory in order to claim an indisputable mandate. Open Russia, a democratic initiative founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled former oil oligarch, said activists had captured many incidents of fraud on camera and "countless individual testimonies" of fraud that showed the election was "an organised and controlled process for reappointing incumbent president Vladimir Putin".

In Moscow, health officials offered cancer screening and discounted food products at polling stations.

The Russian strongman ran against seven other candidates, but his most vocal critic Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt. Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott but the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged.

The election came amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West, with reports that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent poisoning this month of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, in Britain and that its internet trolls had mounted an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016 USA presidential election.

Britain and Russian Federation last week announced diplomat expulsions over the spy case and the United States issued new sanctions.

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But the disputes likely worked in Putin's favor, reinforcing the official stance that the West is infected with "Russophobia" and determined to undermine both Putin and traditional Russian values.

Putin said late on Sunday it was nonsense to think that Russian Federation would have poisoned the former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Britain, and said Moscow was ready to cooperate with London.

And the Kremlin remains at odds with Washington after the United States hit Russian Federation with new sanctions over its meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Sunday's vote was also the first in Crimea since Russian Federation seized the region from Ukraine. But Putin's popularity remained strong, apparently buttressed by nationalist pride.

In his next six years, the president is likely to assert Russia's power overseas even more strongly.

The Russian military campaign that bolsters the Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Russia's foothold in the Middle East and Russia eagerly eyes possible reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as a lucrative economic opportunity.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also commended "the glorious Russian people for its display of civic duty" while Bolivia's Evo Morales said Putin's victory "guarantees geopolitical equilibrium and world peace before the onslaught of imperialism".

In response, London expelled 23 Russian diplomats, prompting a tit-for-tat move by Moscow. "I'm sure that the programme which I suggest for the country is right", he said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

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